The Attorney General of Lagos State and Commissioner for Justice, Mr. Adeniji Kazeem, says the unregulated activities of bus conductors, popularly known as agberos, in the state, remains a huge source of concern to the government.
He said though the government was not unaware of the complaints of residents about the excesses of the agberos on Lagos roads, it had found tackling the issue particularly challenging because the agberos are members of a union.
But light, he said, was at the end of the tunnel, with the plan by the state to eventually phase out privately-owned buses, danfos, with which the agberos operate.
With the danfos gone, the excesses of the agberos will also be gone, Kazeem said.
The Attorney General said this at the weekend while engaging with journalists in his Alausa, Ikeja office.
He noted that the Governor Akinwunmi Ambode administration had since decided that the danfos would have no place in the mega city into which it was gradually turning Lagos.
He re-echoed Ambode’s resolve to transform public transportation in Lagos State, with his plan to replace the danfos with world-class luxurious buses to give commuters better comfort on the road.
This plan, he explained, would begin to materialise towards the end of the year, when the state would take delivery of the first tranche of the said world-class buses.
Kazeem said, “The agberos, who are, in the real sense, bus conductors, are members of a union of sort. So, the question will be: Can you proscribe them? Can you regulate them? I will say well, if a union has been recognised, you have to regulate them actually to make things much better. And that is a very important point which we are taking on. The Ministry of Transport and the police interface with these people and it’s something that we are going to take on.”
He added that Ambode had made it clear that the danfos that are on the streets presently are not befitting for a city like Lagos.
He said, “So, what he’s proposing is that this year, he intends to introduce world-class buses that will gradually replace those danfos in Lagos State. The first tranche, I believe, is over 800 buses and that should come towards the end of the year. What impact it is going to have on the issue of bus conductors is that with those kinds of buses, the rough way which you have complained about will be better regulated. A lot of these people will find jobs but they will have to be retrained, re-kitted and told how to conduct themselves better in public. A lot of the places that these buses are going to operate from are going to well set up and regulated. You’ve seen the Ikeja Bus Terminal, that’s world-class and that’s the kind of place where these buses are going to operate from. And you can imagine that ruffians and people who will wake up in the morning and drink paraga or small gin or whatever will not be allowed in these kinds of places. We are very hopeful that with this reform being proposed by His Excellency, things will get better in that area.”
Crime fighting through forensic investigation
Kazeem said Lagos State was poised to, this year, consolidate on its gains in the area of security and crime fighting.
Last year, the state opened its DNA Forensic Centre, saying it would enhance investigation of crimes and mark the end of wrongful conviction of the innocent or acquittal of the guilty. It said the centre would also help to resolve controversy about paternity and identification of bodies of accident victims by their loved ones.
Kazeem, who said the DNA Forensic Centre, sited on Lagos Island, had since been delivering on its mandate, disclosed that there was plan to introduce a toxicology section, this year.
He said, “The whole idea was to try and set Lagos as the destination for forensic investigation.. .Toxicology is one part we intend to add to that facility.”
Since its set up, the DNA Forensic Centre, Kazeem said, had handled no fewer than 40 cases.
“The cases range from sexual assault to paternity issues. We will be having a press conference in the next two weeks, when we shall give you very interesting details; cases from West African countries, such as Ghana. There have been approaches from the German Embassy to collaborate with us; even the US Embassy to collaborate with us in the lab. So, we are very much encouraged by the attention that has been given to those facilities. That is what has spurred us on to make additional investment (in terms of toxicology),” Kazeem said.
Added to this, the Attorney General said the state would, this year, introduce a data crime register, christened the Lagos Criminal Information System.
This system, he said, would capture all the people who have been convicted of crimes in the state, adding that the information would come in handy to the general public and law enforcement agencies.
“What it means is that every person who has got a conviction, especially in Lagos State, you will find that person on that system. That is what the public wants to see, whether this personality has been once convicted. You can go there and check,” he said.
The system would also capture names of accused persons, who are being tried in court and the offences for which they are being prosecuted. Kazeem, however, said this aspect of the data base would only be accessible to lawyers in the ministry of justice and law enforcement agencies, as making it open to the general public might lead to stigmatisation of accused persons, who may in the end be found not guilty of the offence with which they were charged.
The Attorney General said, “Sometimes, you are prosecuting a matter in which the man needs to be given bail, you need information to be able to take that decision whether he should be given bail or not. There are so many things the practitioners would extract from that system. But that part is not going to be available to the public because, in essence, the person is innocent until proven guilty. This is to avoid stigmatisation on the personality yet; but once the person is convicted, you can extract information.”
Investigation of landed property titles
Close to this, Kazeem said the state had noted with concern the spate of litigation over landed property. He said the state had decided to respond by creating a website where prospective buyers of landed property can search for the status of the property that they are planning to buy.
He said, “Lack of knowledge of litigation would affect your decision whether or not to buy a property. It also helps banks that give credit based on property. If you want to buy land, you will go to the land registry and you will visit the location to see if it is free from any encumbrances, but with these alone you cannot know if there is litigation on the property; and while the bank may still give you money based on that property, not knowing the status might affect the level of risk, interest they place on it.
“So, what we are basically trying to do is to give people the opportunity to make informed decisions. We are working very closely with the judiciary so that any land-related litigation is placed on a website; so you can go there and search at the click of the button.
“For instance, if you are buying a property at Ejigbo; you’ll just go to the website, enter Ejigbo as a search parameter, it will bring out all the litigation on Ejigbo. If you look at it and you find that this property is under litigation, you are warned and can walk away. We believe this is going to help a lot. Don’t forget that our job is to improve access to justice, access to tools that can help the general public to make informed decisions. That is going to be launched any time from now.”
Kazeem also disclosed that Lagos State is in talks with the Federal Government to relocate the Ikoyi Prison, from his current site in the highbrow Ikoyi area of Lagos.
He said the state government was uncomfortable that the prison is not only right in the centre of the city but it has also become overpopulated and overstretched, constituting a security risk.
He noted that though prison administration was the exclusive preserve of the Federal Government, the state could not afford to fold its arms, which was why it was engaging with the Federal Government to relocate the prison.
He said if the talks were successful, the state would love the prison to be relocated to a more spacious site and upgrade it to international standard.
He said, “Unfortunately, issues about prisons, as you know, they are on the Exclusive Legislative List; they are things not within our control, but we can’t look away. “That is the reality. The police are not under our control, but we have made major interventions in that area. This is because it affects us. I can tell you that almost all the security services that operate here, the Lagos State Government has made one intervention or the order, including the prisons.
“There is an ongoing discussion with the Federal Government to relocate Ikoyi Prison to, possibly, Epe or some other location, and free that place. The whole idea is that that prison is congested and right in the middle of the city. What we are going to agree with the Federal Government is to get the design and build a world-class prison facility.
“In America, and I believe in some other places, they call prisons correctional centres, because you are supposed to correct the behavior of people that are sent to that prison, so that they can come out and become better people in the society. So that’s one of the things we have to do.
“One thing the governor has said is that he would intervene, even though it is Federal Government’s problem, so to speak, but we have no choice because it deals with issues in Lagos State. There are issues about infrastructure, hygiene, accommodation and so on; we have to take them in piecemeal.”
The Attorney General said the state regretted the imprisonment of juveniles in adult prisons, which followed its policy to criminalise street hawking.
He said since the large population of juvenile in adult prison was brought to the state’s attention by a non- governmental organisation last year, it had done a lot to address the problem and was working to ensure that it did not recur.
He said, “The issue about juveniles in conflict with the law is a major issue because presently, there are so many of them. The facilities that are supposed to cater for people of this class are completely overstretched. We have one in Oregun and the other one in Idi-Araba for the girls. That’s one of the problems, there has to be massive development of additional space for these juveniles, because it’s not just about the punishment, we are reforming them so that they can be useful people in the society.
“This is an issue not only for the Ministry of Justice but also for the Ministry of Youth and Social Development. So, it is something that we are working very actively on; we are trying to ensure that these children are taken off the streets and that this mistake about them being sent wrongly to adult prisons does not occur again.
…The task force operatives on environmental offences are very aggressive in making sure that they deliver on their mandate, in the process, they go on to sweep up a lot of people. Maybe what we have realised is that a deeper evaluation and assessment of these people that are swept up by the security service is required before they are charged to court, so that we can sift the adults from the young ones.”